Freedom House Releases New Evidence of Brutal Vietnam Religious Policy
Hmong Christian killed for faith in Vietnam last summer; U.S. should hold Vietnam accountable at upcoming bilateral human rights meeting
November 7, 2002
by Center for Religious Freedom
Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom released today a photo and other new evidence that Vietnam continues a policy of brutally suppressing Christianity among the country's tribal populations.
The Center reported that 36-year-old Hmong Christian Mua Bua Senh died on August 7, 2002, as a result of repeated beatings by provincial and district public security police in Vietnam's northwestern Lai Chau province. During 2001, he was beaten on multiple occasions beginning on April 12, for refusing to sign a government pledge renouncing his Christian faith.
A photo of Senh's body, a copy of his government identity card, and three petitions signed by the victim's family and neighbors were given to the Center by sources in Vietnam.
The Center for Religious Freedom urges that, during bi-lateral human rights talks with Vietnam to begin on November 8 in Washington, the State Department's Religion Ambassador John Hanford and Human Rights Assistant Secretary Lorne Craner demand that Vietnam conduct a full investigation into and prosecution of the Hmong Christian's case, and raise other reports of religious repression.
In three petitions obtained by the Center that were signed by dozens of Christian and animist residents of Senh's hamlet of Tin Toc B, Dien Bien Dong District, Lai Chau Province, witnesses attest that Senh was beaten so severely in November 2001 he had to be hospitalized, and he died without recovering last August. One petition names seven members of the public security police and the secretary of the Dien Bien Dong People's Committee as having administered the beatings on November 12 and 15, 2001. Reports received by the Center from reliable sources in Vietnam state Mr. Senh had been hospitalized at Military Hospital #103 in Hanoi.
The officials also reportedly tried to force four other Hmong Christian families from among Tin Toc B village of 40 families to give up their faith and build altars to traditional animist deities. Under pressure from officials, the head of one household signed the pledge to recant Christianity, the other families, including Senh's widow and six children, refused to sign and were driven out of their home district of Dien Bien Dong in Lai Chau Province and then out of neighboring Son La Province where they had taken refuge; they are now in hiding.
At least nine petitions were sent by relatives and neighbors of the deceased to central authorities in Hanoi appealing for an investigation into the case. The most recent, signed on September 29, 2002, by residents of Tin Toc B hamlet, expresses frustration that their numerous appeals for justice had gone unanswered: "If the leaders of our Vietnam government don't answer our petitions very soon, we will notify the international community, and let the United Nations know so that they may help solve the problem."
In 2000 and 2001, the Center had released a trove of secret, official Vietnam directives and other documents that detail and create the bureaucratic infrastructure for a program ("Official Plan 184") to eradicate Christianity among tribal minorities. Among the government documents released by the Center during that time was a government pledge form that Christians are pressured to sign to indicate they are giving up their faith. The copy of the pledge form released by the Center was issued by Mr. Senh's home district of Dien Bien and may be similar or identical to the one Senh and his Christian neighbors were pressured to sign this past year.
Center director Nina Shea commented:
The suppression of Christianity in tribal villages in northwestern Lai Chau and Lao CAI provinces is widespread. It has been frequently reported that over the past year delegations of police and government officials from the commune, the district and the province level show up on Sundays to harass and break up home-based Christian worship services. Reports state that the officials raid the services, confiscate and destroy Bibles and hymnals, and threaten the members of the congregation with death. In October 2002, in Sinh Ho District, Lai Chau Province, authorities began closing government schools in predominantly Christian villages, telling parents that schools will reopen only if they renounce Christianity.
Center sources also learned of the case of Ho A Tong of Huoi Chon Village, Ang To Commune, Tuan Giao District, Lai Chau Province, who had been sentenced to 36 months in prison in January 1999 on trumped up charges of destroying property and stealing cattle. He told Center sources, "I only asked for freedom to practice my religious faith." Since becoming a Christian believer in 1987, he has been imprisoned multiple times including for a period of 38-months beginning in April 1990, during which time provincial authorities forced his wife and daughters to drink a blood oath forswearing Christianity. Over his most recent prison term, officials ransacked his house taking his Party membership card, various service awards, and a copy of Vietnam's decree on religion.
Vietnam was recommended last month by the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom for U.S. designation as a "Country of Particular Concern" for engaging in "systematic, ongoing and egregious persecution of religious believers."
The three petitions, photo, and reports regarding Mua Bua Senh's case were provided by a Freedom House source in Vietnam who requested anonymity. The photos and the 8th family petition can be seen on the Center's website.